LeBron James Lakers Retirement News Draws Scoff From NBA GM: ‘Just Don’t’

LeBron James of the Lakers is reportedly mulling retirement.

Getty LeBron James of the Lakers is reportedly mulling retirement.

It was not just that the series sweep at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals ended the Lakers’ season that was so noteworthy on Monday night in Denver. No, there was more: The end of the Lakers’ playoff run figures to set off another turbulent offseason in L.A., where turbulence has been a constant for three years now.

Star forward LeBron James, coming off a brilliant 40-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist showing in Game 4, set off the most serious alarm bells in Lakerland by indicating he will consider retiring. He did not use that word, but he was no doubt noncommittal about playing next year.

He told Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes, “I’m simply not sure if I’ll be back.”

Around the league, most were not buying that on Tuesday morning.

“Just don’t,” one GM told Heavy Sports with a laugh. “It’s not happening. It is a good team now, he is playing well, they used their (2027) draft pick in a trade like he wanted. He has two years and about $50 million per year (actually, $47 million and $50 million)  on his contract. LeBron has always been a guy who is going to get his money. And he should, good for him. He has a lot of reasons to keep going. Leaving $100 million on the table, that is a significant one for him.”

He added: “Listening to him sounded like I was listening to a 38-year-old who just got swept and was exhausted. That’s all. This will sit out there for a month or two, then he will confirm he is coming back by mid-July.”


Does LeBron Dislike D’Angelo Russell?

Another major blow for the Lakers came with the play of point guard D’Angelo Russell in the Denver series. He was, as expected, a nonentity on the defensive end, and with the depth of the Nuggets’ scoring attack, the Lakers could not afford to have him on the floor. Worse, though, was that his offense seemed sapped, too.

Russell was terrible. He rolled through the first two postseason series, wins over the Grizzlies and Warriors, with averages of 15.7 points and 5.0 assists, on 44.5% shooting. He was a plus-4.6 points per game. But he averaged 6.3 points in the conference finals, on 32.3% shooting (2-for-15 on 3s) and played just 23.5 minutes. He was a minus-11.8 in the series, easily the worst Laker by plus/minus rating.

Russell now heads to free agency, and the seemingly sure bet that the Lakers would re-sign him now looks shaky.

“I hate to say one playoff series can change a franchise’s whole outlook on a guy because that just does not happen, but it is happening with some of the people in that building, maybe most significantly, with LeBron,” one Western Conference executive said. “Is this a guy they want to invest in? Does LeBron want him back — there is talk that he is not Russell’s biggest fan?

“But they gave up that pick (2027 first-rounder) to get him and I can tell you, that was like pulling teeth for some of them in that building. They gave up the pick, they are not letting him walk away.”

The prevailing wisdom has James forcing the Lakers into a pursuit of Kyrie Irving this summer, but that would almost certainly require a sign-and-trade deal that sends Russell to Dallas.

“Does Dallas really want that? Maybe Russell is less of a headache than Kyrie but he is not as talented,” the exec said. “The Mavs might not have a lot of choices with Kyrie, but just taking back D’Angelo Russell straight up, that does not make them better. So why do it? And a lot of people in that (Lakers) organization think they need to keep Russell.”

Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves Could Be Costly

Two more complicating factors—Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves—emerged in the playoffs, and both will cost the Lakers money. Both are restricted free agents and will put a bigger-than-expected dent into the Lakers’ payroll.

The team has an option on guard Malik Beasley, acquired in the deadline trade with Utah and Minnesota that also brought Russell, for $16.5 million. Beasley was solid in the regular season, but averaged only 3.0 points and appeared in 11 games in the playoffs. The Lakers are expected to pick up his contract for next year, even as luxury-tax concerns pile up.

“He can be a contributor, really on any team,” the exec said. “The expectation is they’ll keep him. He can be a good trade piece if you need one. It’s just, if the tax is a big worry, he’d be the easy piece to move off of.”

And there’s Lonnie Walker IV, hero of the conference semifinal win over the Warriors. “I can’t see how they can pay him, he is probably a goner,” the exec said.

Reaves has been a revelation (16.9 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds) in the playoffs. With his strong play in the second half of the year, the Lakers had gotten used to the fact that they would have to pay Reaves the max allowable under the CBA, four years and $51 million. League rules will limit his potential balloon-payment contract to about $100 million over four years.

“Someone is going to give him more than that ($51 million),” the GM said. “The guys who got four years and $100-$110 million last summer (Tyler Herro, Jordan Poole, R.J. Barrett, Jalen Brunson, Anfernee Simons), he should be in that group. He will get a little less than them, I am sure, but he deserves just as much.”

And there’s Hachimura, who rescued his impending restricted free agency, by averaging 12.2 points off the bench, making 48.7% of his 3s. The market on him is unclear, and there won’t be many rebuilding teams looking to take a chance on him with cap space—he is more valuable as a Lakers role player than as a starter for, say, San Antonio or Orlando.

Still, the price for Hachimura is on the rise. And the Lakers, about $35 million below the luxury-tax line, will have to go well into the tax to keep everyone.

“They had a good run, they were the No. 7 seed after all,” the GM said. “But it is gonna get very expensive now. LeBron knows that and LeBron is all about leverage. I think LeBron wants to make sure they pay what they’ve got to pay to keep things together and make the changes he wants.”